Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.07.54

Bradley A. Ault, The Excavations at Ancient Halieis Volume 2: The Houses. The Organization and Use of Domestic Space.   Bloomington, IN:  Indiana University Press, 2005.  Pp. xiv, 171.  ISBN 0-253-34709-2.  $75.00.  

Reviewed by Justin St. P. Walsh, Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies (
Word count: 1813 words

Bradley Ault's new book describes and analyzes households of the fourth century BCE at ancient Halieis, in the southern Argolid. These houses were uncovered during three seasons of fieldwork by the University of Pennsylvania and Indiana University between 1974 and 1976. The book is derived largely from Ault's dissertation research, some of which has already been published in important articles on koprones.1 The volume under review here forms a significant contribution to the growing examination of housing and daily life in the Greek world.2 Recent work on this topic has focused on archaeological evidence, specifically remains of houses and the artifacts found within them, and Ault's book fits squarely within that mold. It will be of primary use to scholars working on quotidian aspects of Greek life, but those working in other areas will also benefit from its clear summaries of room types and functions.

Ault's book is the second in the Halieis series. It is organized into four chapters, with two appendices, a series of tables, and numerous photographs, architectural drawings, and plans. In the course of the text, Ault presents the material discovered at Halieis, then analyzes it with a view to understanding just how activities, and activity areas, were distributed around Greek houses. He also takes a sensitive look at architectural features and their connection to how rooms were used. The material comprises the houses and their artifact assemblages. Even so, the book does not contain detailed studies of any of the relevant artifact types such as pottery, which was assigned for publication to W. Rudolph, or coins, published in Halieis Volume 1 (also 2005). There are, accordingly, no descriptions or images of any of the objects found at Halieis. Ault presents lists and counts of the objects instead, categorizing them by type (pottery wares, other clay objects, stone, metal, and "varia") and by find spot (house and locus).

The volume begins with a brief foreword by Rudolph that aims to place Ault's research within the context of work at Halieis. Rudolph emphasizes the project's birth in the 1960's and 1970's, which made its directors, under the influence of the New Archaeology, particularly aware of the need to record and analyze all available categories of material evidence fully.

In Chapter 1, Ault lays out his own research methodology. He leaves a summary of the site's history, topography, and excavation to a forthcoming volume (Halieis Volume 3, The Acropolis and Upper Town by C. Dengate, et al.). An approach mindful of redundancy is understandable; however, some explanation of how the two primary occupation levels, corresponding to the first and second halves of the fourth century BCE respectively, are related to the site's (and region's) broader historical context would have been welcome here.

Ault's methodology is straightforward and cogently explained, with the exception of his description of artifact quantification and analysis. He writes, "So typologically various and numerically rich are these assemblages that subjecting them to rigorous statistical analysis would be extremely cumbersome, if not actually counterproductive in terms of homogenizing an extremely diverse body of material. Therefore, the assemblages have been considered within their stratigraphic, architectural, and social settings, and not reduced to a disembodied set of figures" (pp. 7-8). Statistical methods have great utility, however, for providing more nuanced understandings of archaeological material, particularly where such methods could allow for rigorous comparisons of assemblages with different provenances or dates. The very diversity that Ault acknowledges could be quantified, for example, using methods such as the Simpson diversity test to compare the "richness" (the number of taxa identified) and "evenness" (how evenly distributed artifacts are across taxa) of the assemblages.3 The results could be used to compare households at Halieis--to show, in fact, how similar or different they were, and how they changed over time. Instead, Ault presents the material--especially pottery--in the form of counts of minimum numbers of vessels represented in each house and as percentages of the total. Even this data could have been more usefully presented by employing charts or graphs, of which there are none in this book. Ault has chosen to refer to C. Orton's early work on using estimated vessel equivalents (EVE's) for counting pottery sherds and analyzing counts, but not Orton's later development of a transformation for EVE's into statistically robust "pottery information equivalents," which can then be used for carrying out quantitative analysis.4

In Chapter 2, Ault proceeds area by area, house by house, and room by room, discussing the architecture and artifacts of two completely excavated houses (House 7 and House A) and nine others that were only partly recovered. In this section, probably the strongest in the book, he describes each house's architecture in impressive detail, followed by an account of the relevant artifact types and counts. As might be expected from Ault's previously published work, his analyses of features such as industrial installations are clear and informative. One particularly good example is his explanation of how a marine shell found near an olive press was likely used during pressing to separate oil from the water that also emerged from the olives (p. 41 n. 103). Scattered throughout, too, are useful comments about the relationship of features found at Halieis to those at Olynthos and elsewhere.

Chapter 3 forms what Ault describes as "an interpretative synopsis of the houses at Halieis" (p. 58). He collects the evidence for all of the various elements of Greek houses as represented at Halieis, from entryway and courtyard to cooking, storage, and sleeping spaces. Each feature receives a summary of the data presented in Chapter 2. There is also a brief but useful review of what is known about the component spaces of Greek houses from other sources, including ancient literature. Ault's important analysis of the courtyard pit installations found at Halieis and elsewhere as koprones (mentioned above) is reintroduced here.

In the final chapter, Ault tackles subjects that have recently been the focus of other studies: the question of gendered spaces in Greek houses, the place of domestic cult, and the presence of economic endeavors such as oil or textile production in the home. In the first instance, Ault finds confirmation of an idea first introduced by M. Jameson but most forcefully argued by L. Nevett, that there is little archaeological evidence that women were strongly segregated from men in Greek households.5 Ault sees flexibility in the celebration of domestic cult as well, where there is variable evidence at Halieis for worship of Hestia or Zeus Herkeios and Zeus Ktesios. Most interesting is the connection he makes between the kitchen-bath complexes found in homes at Halieis and the dining complex at the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore on the slopes of Acrocorinth. He reads the Corinthian buildings, "frequently compris[ing] regularized groupings of dining hall, kitchen, and bath," as "abbreviated houses" that make specific reference to the home as locus of food and textile production (p. 77). Going still further, he sees the rites of Demeter worship at Corinth (and, presumably, elsewhere) as a sort of mimesis of domestic activities that may even highlight "isonomia at the grassroots level between male and female" (p. 77). Returning to Halieis, Ault completes his discussion of "oikos and oikonomia" with an examination of textile and olive-oil production at the site.

Finally, the production of the text merits some comment. The book is relatively short: of 185 pages, only 81 contain the primary text. The remainder is comprised of two concordances, a table of artifact counts, a glossary of terms, a bibliography and an index. These are followed by 20 figures and 73 plates. Many of the plates were washed out in my copy (for example, Plates 30, 45-47, 49, 56, and 61), making them somewhat difficult to decipher. The images are printed on plain paper, a decision which undoubtedly helped contain this volume's price, but which may also be responsible for the poor reproduction quality. I noticed only one typographical error, on the first page of the main text, where "principal" should be substituted for "principle."

In light of Rudolph's introduction, and given the wealth of data that exists from the Halieis houses, there seems to be room for Ault to say even more about ancient Greek homes and daily life. There is very little discussion, for example, about the specific types of vessels used in homes at Halieis, and how the use of different types in different houses might be tied to differences in behavior between households. On the other hand, the presence of complete lists of the inventoried finds by locus make it possible for other scholars to examine the evidence for themselves and evaluate Ault's conclusions. The strength of this book lies in Ault's ability to read and clearly describe the architectural remains at Halieis. Further, he provides expert interpretations of the relationship between artifacts and spaces. For these reasons, this book is a worthwhile contribution to our knowledge of housing in the Greek world.

Works Cited

Antonaccio, C.M. 2000. "Building Gender into Greek Houses." Classical World 93 (5): 517-33.

Ault, B.A. 1994a. Classical Houses and Households: An Architectural and Artifactual Case Study from Halieis, Greece. Ph.D. Diss., Indiana U. UMI: Ann Arbor.

-------. 1994b. "Koprones and Oil Presses: Domestic Installations Related to Agricultural Productivity and Processing at Classical Halieis." In Structures Rurales et Sociétés Antiques. Actes du Colloque de Corfou, 14-16 mai 1992. Annales litéraires de l'Université de Besançon 508. Les Belles Lettres: Paris. 197-206.

-------. 1999. "Koprones and Oil Presses at Halieis: Interactions of Town and Country and the Integration of Domestic and Regional Economies." Hesperia 68 (4): 549-573.

Ault, B.A. and L.C. Nevett, eds. 2005. Ancient Greek Houses and Households: Chronological, Regional, and Social Diversity. U. of Pennsylvania Press.

Cahill, N. 2002. Household and City Organization at Olynthus. Yale University Press.

Hoepfner, W. and E.-L. Schwandner. 1994. Haus und Stadt im klassischen Griechenland. Wohnen in der klassischen Polis 1. Deutscher Kunstverlag: Munich.

Jameson, M. 1990. "Private Space and the Greek City." In The Greek City: From Homer to Alexander." O. Murray and S. Price, eds. Clarendon Press: Oxford. 171-95.

Nevett, L.C. 1994. "Separation or Inclusion? Towards an Archaeological Approach to Investigating Women in the Greek Household in the Fifth to Third Centuries BC." In Architecture and Order: Approaches to Social Space. M.P. Pearson and C. Richards, eds. Routledge: New York. 98-112.

-------. 1995. "Gender Relations in the Classical Greek Household. Annual of the British School at Athens 90: 363-81.

-------. 1999. House and Society in the Ancient Greek World. Cambridge UP.

Orton, C. 1980. Mathematics in Archaeology. Cambridge UP.

-------. 1989. "An Introduction to the Quantification of Assemblages of Pottery." Journal of Roman Pottery Studies 2: 94-97.

Orton, C., P. Tyers, and A. Vince. 1993. Pottery in Archaeology. Cambridge Manuals in Archaeology. Cambridge UP.

Reinders, H.R. and W. Prummel. 2003. Housing in New Halos: A Hellenistic Town in Thessaly, Greece. A.A. Balkema: Lisse.

Simpson, E.H. 1949. "Measurement of Species Diversity." Nature 163: 688.


1.   Ault 1994a, 1994b, and 1999.
2.   The backdrop for current work on Greek houses is formed primarily by the provocative theories of W. Hoepfner and E.-L. Schwandner (1994), to whom monographs by L. Nevett (1998), N. Cahill (2002), and H.R. Reinders and W. Prummel (2003) have all responded to greater or lesser degrees; Nevett and Ault (2005) have jointly edited a recent volume in the same vein as well Many articles have appeared on similar subjects, too, since 1990--indeed, too many to list here.
3.   The Simpson diversity test (Simpson 1949) was first developed for studies of species diversity in the world of biology, but it can be applied more broadly as well.
4.   Ault cites two works by Orton (1980 and 1989). Orton, et al. 1993, particularly Chapter 13, "Quantification," presents the new methodology.
5.   Jameson 1990 and Nevett 1994, 1995, and 1998, cited by Ault (p. 74). See also Antonaccio 2000.

Read Latest
Index for 2006
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:31:10, Friday, 03 April 2009